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Speaking English is a very important skill because it allows you to communicate with people in real-life situations.
By improving your English accent, you’re improving your chances of communicating well. Moreover, if you speak well, you can be understood better. If you’re understood better, you’ll have more chances to improve your English.
Speaking clearly gives you chances to ask questions, be corrected, and learn new vocabulary because people can pay better attention to what you are saying.
That said, here are a few tips and tricks you can use to improve your English accent.
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- Why Some People Don't Improve Their Accents
- Build the Right Phonetic Patterns From the Start
- Learn Intonation Patterns First
- Why Is It Important to Learn Intonation?
- How to Understand Intonation
- Read Aloud to Improve Your Intonation
- Learn the Phonetic Alphabet to Practice the Smaller Details
- Practice Your Motor Skills
- Get Feedback
- Now, on to You
Why Some People Don’t Improve Their Accents
There are two main reasons why people may not improve their accent.
First, there are psychological reasons. These are the learner’s thoughts and emotions.
Most people are scared of making mistakes. Having long pauses, having to always repeat yourself, and getting the pronunciation of a word wrong can make people feel embarrassed.
Making these mistakes can make people give up, but mistakes are important as they act as lessons for us to learn from. Mistakes also help us to improve and grow, so do not be afraid of them.
Second is the physical aspects of pronunciation. This is the movement of your mouth, lips, tongue, and muscles when speaking. When you are not used to making sounds, this skill can be hard to learn.
Everything takes practice, even pronunciation. If you are too afraid of making mistakes, then you will be missing out on this important physical practice.
People often think that having a good accent is because of talent. This is not always true.
People who have a good accent got to that level by using the right methods, putting in the effort and practice, and having the right attitude.
You can also have this level of success with the right advice. But how do you build the confidence and skills to put this into practice?
Let’s find out.
Build the Right Phonetic Patterns From the Start
Phonetic patterns are the way native speakers speak. This is not just the pronunciation of words, but the flow, pattern, and tones of words in sentences too.
People who have good accents build their understanding of the phonetic patterns of English from the start.
The more you practice, the stronger your understanding becomes. The stronger it becomes, the harder it is for it to get weaker over time.
These people started practicing this skill at the best possible time. The second-best time is now.
Learn Intonation Patterns First
When trying to improve their English accent, most people start with the pronunciation of single words. The problem with this is that it takes a very long time.
It is possible to learn the pronunciation of single words through things like learning the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), but this does nothing to help you learn how those words flow in sentences.
Intonation is the musicality of English. It is the way the words flow, and it is the pitch and the tones of the language. Intonation is the way we say things rather than the meaning of the words used.
To get a good, natural, and understandable accent, it is important to learn this. Intonation has two basic patterns in English — rising and falling tones.
Why Is It Important to Learn Intonation?
Intonation communicates more information than just the meaning of the words in a sentence. It lets the listener know our mood, feelings, or attitudes. Intonation also gives grammatical information to the listener.
Commands (telling people what to do), questions that need answers, questions that are used to make sure something is correct, and exclamations of feelings all use intonation differently.
Understanding intonation is how babies learn to understand language. They listen to the whole conversation to understand the meaning or feeling of what was said.
They learn the words and the smaller details later. Without intonation, we cannot naturally communicate the way we feel, and the meaning of what is said may get misunderstood.
There is a saying in English: “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”
What this phrase means is that you cannot see the larger, important details of something because you are too interested in the smaller details.
By only practicing your pronunciation of single words, you are missing the bigger picture of intonation and all of the information that it holds.
How to Understand Intonation
The rules for intonation are complicated. Each different kind of thought or feeling has its own intonation patterns.
Oxford Online English has a video called Intonation in English – English Pronunciation Lesson that you can help you to understand intonation in more detail.
They explain the patterns, tones, and how to use intonation to express your thoughts and feelings. However, there are easy ways to learn it.
One easy method is to find audio of a native speaker and print out a script onto paper. From here, you can play the audio track, listen to it, follow along with the script, and listen to how the words change in the sentences.
When you follow along, you can also use a pencil to write down when the tone of the speaker rises or falls.
You can do this method in your own way. I have seen students using arrows, lines above or below the words, using different colored highlighters, and other methods.
It does not matter which way you make your notes, as long as it makes sense to you.
This method will also help you to make a connection with reading and listening to intonation, which will be helpful to you later.
The good thing about the audio and script method is that you are giving yourself the chance to learn in three different ways.
You learn through listening when you play the audio. You learn through visual ways when you read the text and make your notes. Finally, you learn through doing by writing your notes in the code you have chosen.
This helps you to better remember what you have learned because you have made lots of different kinds of memories.
You are also learning through experiencing the language. We learn better when what we have learned is meaningful to us, and this helps us to do that.
There are other ways that you can practice listening to and understanding intonation. You can listen to podcasts, the radio, or a YouTube channel on topics that you enjoy.
You can listen to dramatized real-life situations by visiting BBC Learning English Drama. Here you can find 59, six- to 10-minute episodes to listen to.
The BBC also has Learning English News Review. This website has 123 news story clips, each lasting around 10 minutes.
Voice of America offers lessons and news stories on many topics, like health and lifestyle, science and technology, arts and culture, world news stories, pronunciation classes, and more.
They also give you beginner, intermediate, and advanced categories so that you can pick your level. You can also watch people give speeches on important topics on YouTube through TED.
Finally, This American Life is a podcast with various topics. They also give you little written explanations of the shows that you can read so that you can build your background knowledge before listening to the audio clips.
These are just a few options to get you started, but there are many more resources available.
When you listen to these resources, remember, it does not matter if you cannot understand every word in the audio. You are listening for intonation and not meaning.
You can play these audios in the background when you are doing housework so that you can get used to the different tones, rhythms, flows, and sounds that native speakers use.
You can also watch movies with subtitles, through Netflix or other streaming services, so that you can follow along with the words in a similar way to the script and audio method.
The good thing about this method is that you will get to see the characters emotions and non-verbal communication, which will give you a clearer understanding of intonation in real-life situations.
It is important to change the way you learn to keep things interesting.
Being a self-learner allows you to pick and choose what you find interesting. When you are not interested in something, you will not learn well.
But when you are interested in something, the levels of a chemical called dopamine in your brain increases. This makes your brain learn things easier.
You can choose your own methods, your own media, and your own notes to help you learn better.
Read Aloud to Improve Your Intonation
Now that you have an understanding of intonation, you can practice using it. Practicing accents is not just done through listening, but through speaking too.
By listening and making notes on a text, you have practiced your input and made a connection between reading and listening to intonation.
To practice speaking, you can read a text aloud and try to copy the intonation patterns that you have learned.
Try to get the right rhythms and tone. It is best if you talk slowly so that you can also practice the physical movements of your mouth and tongue to improve your accent even more.
When you read aloud, you can record yourself and listen back to your recordings. You can then compare them to the audio of the native speakers that you have been using to see how you are improving.
Learn the Phonetic Alphabet to Practice the Smaller Details
Now that you have seen the forest, you can focus on the trees. You can look at the smaller details of pronouncing single words.
As mentioned earlier, the IPA is available to you to learn the phonetics of English.
Oxford Online English has a video called How to Read IP – Learn How Using IPA Can Improve Your Pronunciation. This video teaches you how to read the symbols of the IPA and also explains how to use it in your English studies.
You can also keep and study an IPA chart, like this one available on EnglishCLUB.
The IPA helps you to identify new sounds that are familiar to you and helps you to recognize new sounds that you are not used to hearing.
By learning the IPA and phonetic alphabet, you will start noticing unfamiliar sounds more when listening to and speaking in English.
When you do find sounds that are different to your native language, do not compare them to sounds that are similar in your own language.
While this may seem like an easy shortcut at first, it will cause bad habits, make you sound unnatural, make it hard for people to understand you, and make it very hard to correct your accent and pronunciation in the future.
Being more aware of these sounds will also help you to practice your motor skills.
Practice Your Motor Skills
Just like when you learn a musical instrument or a sport, you need to practice your motor skills through the movement of your lips, mouth, throat, muscles, and tongue to pronounce words.
Practice your motor skills at every chance you get. Use language learning apps with native speaker audio, listen to the recordings, and then repeat them.
These apps will not make you fluent in a language, but they will teach you useful vocabulary and phrases and also often let you pick topics that you want to learn.
Online dictionaries also have audio samples that you can use. Just like with the apps mentioned, you can listen to the native speaker audio and then repeat what you hear.
If you have learned the IPA, it will become useful here as online dictionaries use the IPA to show you how to pronounce words.
Cambridge Dictionary, Oxford Learners Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster Dictionary are all fantastic and offer British English, American English, or even both accents so that you can practice your target accent.
The great thing about online dictionaries is that they are free and have all of the vocabulary you would ever need.
This is great for practicing pronunciation as these dictionaries will suit your exact needs, so long as you know which words you want to hear and pronounce.
You can also record your voice to play it back to yourself to compare it to the app or online dictionary. This will give you the chance to compare your voice to native speakers.
Using a mirror to look at the position of your lips, mouth, and tongue to experiment with positions through trial and error will also further improve your accent.
Now that you are recording your voice, it is important that you get feedback on the recordings.
If you have native English speaking friends, or are living in a native English speaking country, you can send people recordings so that they can guide you.
But what if you do not have native speakers around you?
Free online communities like r/JudgeMyAccent on Reddit are available to use and give you access to a community of native speakers. You can send recordings and get advice on how to improve your accent.
Other paid apps like iTalki also let you practice with a native-speaker teacher. iTalki lets you speak with native speakers all around the world, so you will be able to pick a teacher with your target accent, whether that is a British, American, Australian, or other native accent.
Teachers on iTalki can be flexible in what they teach, so you can find an experienced teacher that fits your needs and learning objectives.
Feedback like this is not only important for learning, but also makes you change the way that you approach pronunciation.
When you record your voice for others, you will be aware that you are being judged.
This will make you try harder and will force you to practice the details of your intonation and pronunciation, forcing you to practice your motor skills in more detail.
This will further help to improve your accent.
Now, on to You
Improving your accent is not only about pronouncing words. You need to focus on the bigger picture of intonation to learn the natural rhythms and flow of the language first.
Being able to use intonation in sentences will also help you to better communicate your thoughts and feelings.
Remember, being a self-learner lets you have fun, so pick media, topics, and activities that interest you so that you can become a better learner.
After you understand intonation, you can focus on the smaller details of pronunciation to sound even more native-like. Moreover, listen to words from online resources and use the IPA to guide you.
Finally, don’t forget to ask for feedback. Allow yourself to be judged so you can practice your motor skills. Don’t be afraid of feedback or mistakes, too, as they help us to grow and learn.